The fashion industry and the gay community are typically (or stereotypically, whichever way you look at it) linked in a lot of ways. Many of the world’s top designers are gay, with some of their labels featuring homoerotic ads, there is an increasing number of gay models on the scene, and gays have long been associated with the idea that they love shopping and keeping on top of the latest trends.
While of course not everyone adheres to or appreciates these stereotypes, there is no denying the influence a lot of brands – both luxury and high street – have over the gay community, whether that is intentional or not. But over the years, a number of companies have cottoned on (excuse the pun) to what they perceive one of their largest demographic groups to be – the LGBT community. Pride events are the number one reason for travel within the community and local gay-run businesses experience their biggest increase in profit, while LGBT rights around much of the world continue to get better. In turn, many renowned companies like to show their apparent acceptance of, appreciation for and affinity with the gay community by selling LGBT and Pride-themed merchandise. But is this just a way to “cash in” by pandering to us, to stroke their own ego and increase their reputation, or do they truly care about us and our cause?
Global fast fashion chains Primark, H&M and River Island are three prime examples of companies attempting to embrace and celebrate diversity with their latest campaigns and collections.
Primark have been accused of not donating money from a previous line of Pride merchandise to charity, despite apparently “taking LGBT rights very seriously” and “being a member of Stonewall”. However, 20% of profits from their new collection will be given to Stonewall. That said, people are still not happy. Activists argue that Stonewall are not the best charity to donate to for their stance against some Pride events and their marginalisation of the transgender community, as well as the fact that they receive a lot of charitable donations and funding from elsewhere compared to smaller charities and local Pride events who are in greater need of funds to run. The collection has also been criticised for Primark’s notorious use of labourers in countries where being LGBT is illegal. In addition, others have also expressed annoyance that the Pride collection – though perhaps designed as unisex – is stocked in the women’s section.
H&M have just released a collection of pro-LGBT clothes that will be available across America and in some stores outside the US. Gay sportsman Gus Kenworthy, who currently has a legion of fans and admirers from the community, is the main face of the collection, which also features RuPaul drag queen Aja, albino model Shaun Ross, activist Gabrielle Richardson and trans pop singer Kim Petras. 10% of profits will be donated to the United Nations Free & Equal campaign. What is commendable is H&M’s diversity with the campaign but what is a underwhelming is the simplicity of the clothes.
The collection is supposedly inspired by 70s fashion and features a wide array of garments and accessories popular in that era, including crop tops, denim jackets, cut-off pants and fanny packs/bum bags. The clothes are mainly plain white or plain coloured with simple motifs and slogans such as “=”, “Love”, “Pride” and “Lover Not A Fighter”. But considering the low price points of the products, is 10% of profits really that much?
River Island have teamed up with charity Ditch The Label, who work to eradicate stereotypes many people from diverse racial, gender, sexual orientation and religious backgrounds face, with their collection of clothes. The first wave of these featured slogans saying “#LabelsAreForClothes” and enlarged fabric care graphics usually seen on labels inside clothes. The second wave focuses more on Pride and the clothes are emblazoned with “Love Not Labels” and “100% Proud”. £3 from each sale goes towards Ditch The Label and prices range from £18-£28.
So will the LGBT community flock to stock up on new clothes for Pride month in June in the name of free and equal love and charity? The answer to that is, most probably. While some people from the gay community are extremely fashion forward and prefer to stand out with their looks, others unfortunately tend to follow trends. It’s like every Tom, Dick and Harry these days who seem to have the basic white Levi’s t-shirt ever since Topman started stocking it or the once luxury but now watered down Gucci t-shirt that almost every high street retail store has copied and has everybody wearing a variation of. There is nothing more embarrassing in the world of fashion than seeing someone else wear the same top as you, but when they’re mass produced and sold at such a bargain price, you can’t really be that surprised.
But the main question is, just how much money will end up being donated to these charities? Of course, these companies’ main goal at the end of the day is profit. 10-20% or £3 from each sale doesn’t actually seem that much when you consider that their annual revenue is £6m (Primark), £1bn (River Island) and £19bn (H&M). It is therefore particularly hard to believe that H&M for example, donating just 10% of profits from their collection will be giving the UN charity a lot, especially if it won’t be available globally and assuming it won’t be a hugely popular, sell-out collection.
Granted the charities being donated to do create awareness and help people within the LGBT community and them teaming up with some of the largest and most influential companies in the world to promote themselves is a smart idea, but how can we really tell whether the companies do care? Firstly, all three companies I’ve mentioned have collections to celebrate “Pride”, being released during the summer (June is Pride Month in the US), yet none of them are donating to charities that are even indirectly involved with Pride events. And what about smaller, more focused charities, that are not as visible or as well supported with extra funds and cash revenue and do just as much to help other communities, usually on a more local level? It appears to be very much a “giants helping giants” situation.
Secondly, we need to look at their relationship with the LGBT community besides these collections. None of them have really stood out as pro-LGBT organisations above others, be it in terms of their previous lines or marketing, their company policies for employees or their affiliation with anything or anybody LGBT and nor do they directly involve themselves with LGBT charities or at Pride events. This appears to be the first time they’ve decided to cash in on the “pink pound” and if proven popular in terms of sales, will probably continue year after year.
But to top it off, from a fashion perspective, none of the styles and designs really stand out as being great or innovative. Primark’s collection looks basic and cheaply made as per usual, H&M’s is a tad boring and understated, and River Island’s aren’t all that creative either. In fact, many small LGBT-run businesses who produce clothes and merchandise you can buy online or at Pride events, have a wider range of more interesting products and at more reasonable prices. Sure, not all of them may donate to charity or Pride events either, but you know at least you’re helping the little guy.
Besides Primark, H&M and River Island, plenty of other big companies have released “Pride” and LGBT collections, including Nike, Adidas, American Apparel, Urban Outfitters and ASOS. However, only the latter two appear to be donating any profits to organisations. UO are donating 100% of profits to GLSEN (Gay and Lesbian and Straight Education Network), and ASOS have teamed up with GLAAD and are giving them £5 from each sale from their collection.
For these others, it is unclear as to whether any particular charity or organisation will benefit from their collections and if not, why not? To put that into perspective, one pair of Pride-themed Adidas trainers costs £99.95, none of which seems to be going anywhere except back into their own pockets. American Apparel, who have previously released collections in support of the LGBT community, are hoping to advocate for anyone and everyone on the wide “gender spectrum” with the campaign “They O.K.” but apart from turning a few heads and attempting to create awareness or show acceptance, what else does it really do for anyone affected by prejudice and discrimination who are in need of more support?
So we can by all means purchase clothes and other merchandise from these big companies knowing that we are somehow making at least a small difference, but for those that aren’t donating to charities we can at least make some fashion statements (I mean, some of the Adidas and Nike stuff does look pretty cool). However, if we want a clearer conscience and to really stand out, there are plenty of companies out there with far more and better looking products to choose from – a few of which I’ve listed below:
http://www.prettypinkpearl.co.uk (lesbian couple hand design and print all products and sell at Pride events)
https://iwpride.teemill.co.uk (proceeds help fund Isle of Wight Pride)
https://equalitee.co.uk (fund local LGBT charity and communities)
http://shop.littlemstees.com (UK’s largest LGBT-focused online clothing store)
http://www.revelandriot.com (non-profit organisation that donates to LGBT charities and attend Pride events)